Under ConstructionJohn 14:1-14 1 Peter 2:2-10
For the past decade, I have moved around a lot. State to state, University to Seminary, ministry to ministry… So, for a long time I have only owned what I could fit into the back of my little Ford Ranger truck. I made it through 7 years of university life with a folding table acting as my desk- along with a collapsible bookshelf. For a couple of years I even slept on an air-mattress. And to this day it still feels normal to me to have a lawn chair in the living room and use packing tubs as end tables.
In this decade of moving around… I’ve had three bikes stolen from me… mostly because I didn’t have a secure place to put them (other than my living room, and I never felt like hauling them inside… hence why they were stolen)… but now I have a garage. That might not seem like a huge deal to many of you… but this is big to me- for I have been a wanderer.
Since arriving in Princeton, I’ve slowly been accumulating furniture that I can’t deflate, collapse, fold up, or stuff into a box.
I’m surprised, every once in a while, when I notice that I have not one bed in my house but two! And a big, overstuffed, bulky couch and a hand-me-down rocking chair! These things are roots. They may be simply things… but to a wanderer, like me… they are roots. If it can’t fit into the back of my truck… it’s a root…
All of these simple things are sort of spreading out and reaching into the ground to plant themselves. This has been sort of a shock to the system! But, all in all, this process has granted me an appreciation for, not only what a house and things are… but what a home means.
And while I elected to have wandering years, to travel- to go and do… the audience of Peter’s letter- our Scripture passage for today- did not. Peter was writing to a band of exiled people. Those shipped off and away from Jerusalem, to Asia Minor (near what is now Turkey). Those receiving this letter from Peter, were an un-rooted wandering people. A people that were away from their physical and spiritual home.
And it is to these people that Peter talks about rocks. Heavy things. Things that are a part of the earth. Stationary. Things that do not fit into the back of a little Ford Ranger truck.
As residents of Bureau County we are surrounded by green fields, crops, rivers… on every side. So, it is unlikely that we can truly identify with the abundance of rock imagery in Scripture.
Jerusalem, which is a city built on a hill, has valleys on every side and is almost entirely made of rock. In every direction you would see arid lands and rock. All the houses, churches and even the city wall is built out of limestone rock. There is not really any diversity in the color of the city architecture; it just looks like the stones from the valley rose up to create a city!
In fact, in the early 1950s through the 1960s, construction was being done with cinderblock because it was cheaper than using quarried stone… But unfortunately the cinderblock ruined the trademark/natural rock look of Jerusalem. So now there is a law that every building being constructed must look like limestone on the outside. In modern Israel, they “fake” the stone look with stucco and things… so that the city (very determinedly) still looks like it was just pulled up from the earth. I still looks like a bunch of rocks.
So it is no wonder, that all throughout the Bible rocks and stones are used as an ancient conversation about the divine. Rocks would have been this sort of universal experience.
For example King David, likely looked out on this rocky landscape as he wrote:
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
My God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
My shield, and the horn of my salvation,
My stronghold. ~ Psalm 18:1-2
Then again, the author of Ecclesiastes (who is traditionally thought to be Solomon, David’s son) wrote and I’m going to abbreviate this a little bit:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together… ~Ecclesiastes 3:1-5a
Then again, when the Israelites were crossing into the Promised Land after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness… God instructed Joshua to have twelve stones from the Jordan River set up as a monument. So Joshua tells the people:
“…These stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” ~Joshua 4:7
Stones and rocks are talked about in Scripture as metaphors for the sure and solid love of God and as markers- thing that tell the story of profound spiritual moments.
And it is this theme, rocks, that continues into our Scripture Reading for today from the first letter of Peter. Even though the original audience was that of the converts in Asia Minor (or Turkey) its message is for all Christians. But more specifically, this letter is to be read by churches – groups of early Christians that have banned together during a time of great persecution … pause… and a group that is part of a young movement… these early believers would know and interact with people that had walked beside Jesus, touched Jesus, ate the fish and the bread that he multiplied… so there was a certain excitement and energy within this audience, because, to many, it is more than real… it was a personal encounter.
And it is to them that Peter says:
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” ~1 Peter 2:4-6
This imagery is especially powerful coming from Peter.
Peter was a beloved disciple of Christ, and the one to whom Christ said, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” And then 5 verses later Christ says to him, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” So Peter is the foundation of the church- the rock, but also Peter had moments when he was the stumbling block that gets in the way of Christ’s work in this world.
How about that for a commentary on the church! Our foundations can also trip us up!
Anyway, I trust that Peter knows his way around rock imagery… and when he says, “Come to him, a living stone…” I find this to be a very personal plea from someone that knew Christ first hand.
Now, the term “living stone” is truly an oxymoron. Rocks are still, and heavy. The result of pressure and heat on the Earth, they overwhelmingly characterize by solidity.
But, stones and rocks in Scripture are more that just lifeless dirt… they are something that holds potential despite themselves (despite their nature)!
In the story of the Exodus, we find Moses striking a rock on Mt. Horeb with his trusty staff… and God make water burst out from the rock! What was still and lifeless… becomes a vessel for God to bring forth water.
So, Peter says that as Christ is a Living Stone, we are to be living stones and build ourselves into a spiritual house… in which Christ is the cornerstone. We are the small stones, the pebbles (filled with God’s potential) that come together to build something great- a spiritual house of God.
Or what Peter goes on to call, a holy priesthood.
To an audience of Congregationalist, which is the very definition of low-church (no hierarchy, the only structure that we have is what we create…) this, sort of, high-church term: priesthood… may sound a bit foreign. In high church traditions (such as the Catholic congregation, or Episcopal, or Anglican…) the role of priest is seen as something that bridges the gap between human beings and our divine Maker. Priests have this mediating role between God and humanity.
But Peter is saying that you are all to be priests! That you all have this role! That you all are able and responsible to bridge the gap!
That may seem like an impossible and heavy task… But when the faithful come together its possible! When we, as rocks- as living stones, pull ourselves together, rise up into a spiritual house we become a home for God very presence and redeeming work in this world.. But the catch is- that we rocks don’t stick together naturally.
We are bound together in and through our relationship with Christ. Not only is Jesus the cornerstone on which we stand, that keeps us all from sinking; He is the very glue, or mortar, that holds the house of God together!
Remember that with God, rocks and stones are little vessels of potential. So imagine all that is possible when the faithful bind ourselves together to build that spiritual house. A place for God to dwell, a place where people can come and know and experience God’s love, grace and mercy!
Saint Teresa of Avila said that:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth,
Yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good.
And yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.
You are a living stone, the person sitting next to you and behind of in front of you… they are living stones. And we are all bound together in Christ. He is our mortar. Together we provide a place for all to know God. It is my prayer that we, as a congregation, always be under construction. That we always be encountering new people (because we truly are Christ’s body on this earth) and that when they experience the rock-solid love of God – that they can be added into our Spiritual home. Which is always growing, always changing, always seeking to be a house of God.
Peter tells us that we are chosen and precious in God’s sight. But he also says that it isn’t enough to sit back and bask in God’s love. But because of what Christ did for us, gifting us with salvation- we have to share it with the whole world, in our speech, in the work of our hands, in the way that we live. To be living stones, bursting with God’s love- to be a spiritual house of the Lord- that holy priesthood- we have to be rock-solid and sure of the way God loves us.
We are to be living stones.